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Amazingly funny Dutch idioms

When you’re a Dutch person living abroad like myself, you
realise how many idioms of the Dutch language sound absolutely ridiculous in
English. I had to find out the hard way that the Dutch saying “an apple for
when you’re thirsty” does not mean “a bit of money put away for bad times”, but
just an apple that you eat when you’re thirsty… Embarrassing! To let you all
share in the wonderful range of idioms the Dutch have to offer, I’ve made a
short list of my favourites below:

What the Dutch say

What they mean

Nu komt de aap uit de mouw!

> Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve!

As you might have thought, there is no monkey coming out of your sleeve. This idiom is used when the truth is revealed about a situation or someone.

Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest

> As if a small angel pees on your tongue

This is probably the best one: it means that you absolutely LOVE the food that you’re eating.

Iets onder de knie hebben

> To have something under your knee

This means that you have mastered something and know exactly what you’re doing with it.

Weten waar Abraham de mosterd halt

> To know where Abraham gets his mustard

Basically, this has nothing to do with food – it means that you’re well informed about a certain subject.

Helaas, pindakaas

> Unfortunately, peanut butter

This is clear, right? No? It means “too bad”. I reckon it’s probably only a saying because it rhymes in Dutch.

De kogel is door de kerk

> The bullet is through the church

This means that finally, after long discussions, a decision has been made. Apparently, this comes from an old custom. In the past, churches were places you could not attack each other or shoot – so when an enemy did shoot in the church, this showed that the enemy meant serious harm and that battle was commencing.

Iets met de Franse slag doen

> Doing something with the French whiplash

This apparently comes from riding terminology. It means doing something half-baked or hastily.

Iets voor een appel en een ei kopen

> To buy something for an apple and an egg

To buy something very cheaply (and we all know the frugal Dutch love that)!

Over koetjes en kalfjes praten

> To talk about little cows and calves

This means small talk – for example when you’re not talking about anything significant, or maybe about the weather.

Ik zal dat varkentje wel even wassen

> I will wash that little piglet

This one means that you will take care of something and you will get the job done. Also, who doesn’t like piglets?

What is your favourite idiom of all time? Do you know any good ones? Let us know!

Danielle Bastiaens

Danielle Bastiaens

I am the project manager and business development manager at Tongue Tied (Manchester) Ltd. I am passionate about the arts, culture, food, travelling and languages and love to read, write and translate about any of these subjects.

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  1. joyce

    Hi Daniëlle,
    What about:
    “(niet) weten waar de klepel hangt”
    “tussen wal en schip vallen”
    “nu breekt mijn klomp!”
    “je slaat de spijker op de kop!”
    “de plank volledig mis slaan”

    And somewhat less formal;
    “van de pot gerukt”
    “krijg nou tieten”

    Never use them, but would definitely lighten up some of the academic talks in English!

  2. Petra

    One of my favorite idioms is not Dutch and not German but an American one: “It’s not over until the fat Lady sings. referring to the times when all performances ended with someone (and almost always a fat lady) singing the national anthem.

  3. Anil

    Very nice post.
    The best one is ” I will wash that little piglet”

  4. Monique

    A Dutch manager saying to his UK colleague: Don’t you send me into the woods now!

    Iemand het bos insturen.

  5. Mark

    Hi Danielle,

    I enjoyed your post, but in your accompanying e-mail: “pijpenstelen” does not mean “steel pipes”, but “the stem of a pipe” 🙂


  6. James

    I’ve worked with the Dutch for just over 10 years and this is fascinating insight. Meeting at their offices after the short flight from Manchester we cannot help ourselves but mention the weather, so we do a lot of talking about the ‘small cows and calves!’

  7. chris

    Ik zal er eens over slapen !

  8. Tim

    I love the little angel peeing one! I am memorizing that now and totally using that at the next meal my wife cooks! Wonderful! 😀

  9. Herbert Voort

    Personally I like these:

    Er is niets aan de hand
    There is nothing on the hand
    It means: there is nothing wrong

    Ik hou je in de gaten
    I’m keeping you in the holes
    It means: I am watching you

  10. Dawie

    Almost all of those idioms is used similarly in the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans however have a wide variety of idioms derived from its Malay roots also. Others originated in Africa.

  11. Siobhan

    Hi Danielle,

    Can you tell me what this Dutch saying means: I hope that one day we will be able again to walk through one door. I only know the English of it.

    • Isabella Fink

      Hi Siobhan! Hmm,I am sorry but none us here knows this saying- however if we find out we will let you know! 🙂

    • Serge Vandenplas

      Hi Siobhan,
      I hope that one day we will be able again to walk through one door.
      In dutch: “Ik hoop dat we ooit nog samen door één deur kunnen”.
      “Samen niet door één deur kunnen” means that you don’t agree with somebody or that you are caught up in a very competitive relationship (not romantic) with somebody.
      So the idiom you asked about means: “I hope we will agree some day (and get along again)”
      Best regards

    • Loes

      To walk trough one door together means you get along well with each other. If you cannot walk trough one door with someone there is a strong dislike between the two of you.

  12. Jonathan

    “Hopelijk kunnen we voortaan weer door dezelfde deur” “Hopefully we can from now one enter through the same door”. Used when settling a difference.

  13. collin heijer

    Ouwe koeien uit de sloot halen, dragging old cows out of the creek/ditch meaning bringing up or repeating old boring stories

  14. Bob

    I’ve heard that the idiom ‘Dat is een ander koek’ (or koekje) has the same meaning as the British ‘That’s another kettle of fish’ and the American ‘That’s a horse of a different color’. True, or close? If not, what does it mean, and what is the equivalent of the US and UK idioms? Thanks for your replies.


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